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It’s Time To Get Excited About The USWNT Youngsters

FRISCO, TEXAS - FEBRUARY 23: Mallory Pugh #9 of the USA celebrates with Ashley Sanchez #13 and Catarina Macario #20 after scoring against Iceland in the second half during the 2022 SheBelieves Cup at Toyota Stadium on February 23, 2022 in Frisco, Texas.
Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

The U.S. women’s national team beat Iceland 5–0 to win the SheBelieves Cup on Wednesday, and they did it without most of the veteran players that have led the U.S. side for years.

Head coach Vlatko Andonovski left stalwarts, like Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Christen Press, and Tobin Heath, off the roster in favor of younger players, giving them a chance to get some experience in a relatively low-stakes tournament. Only in its seventh year, the SheBelieves Cup doesn’t draw the world’s top national teams and generally functions as a series of friendlies, allowing for experimentation with players and formations. Ten players on the U.S. roster had fewer than 10 caps before the tournament, nine are younger than the age of 25, and just two players, Kelley O’Hara and Becky Sauerbrunn, had more than 100 caps with the national team. The plan was straightforward: Give young and inexperienced players a chance to cook.

In their first game in the SheBelieves Cup, against the Czech Republic, the U.S. drew 0–0. They then beat New Zealand 5–0, thanks in large part to a hat-trick of own-goals from a New Zealand defender. In the final, though, the U.S. saw it all come together.

Catarina Macario, who has been in the national team mix since last year but had yet to cemented her spot on the team, showed out—scoring two goals, including this absolute banger in the 37th minute.

The 22-year-old Macario scored again in the 45th minute, off an assist from Mallory Pugh. Pugh earned her first call up to the national team when she was 17, and she was part of the squads that won the 2016 Olympics and the 2019 World Cup. After that, though, she struggled with injuries, and she fell off the national team radar. Pugh, now 23, has made the most of her roster spot on for the SheBelieves Cup, scoring twice against Iceland in that victory.

Kristie Mewis—who, at 30, is five years older than the average age of the U.S. roster for this tournament—added the fifth goal with a nice finish, and Ashley Sanchez, 22, had a number of opportunities that she couldn’t quite convert. Forward Sophia Smith, 21, and defender Emily Fox, 23, also put together solid performances and notched a few shots on goal.

In all, it was a promising showing for the next generation of USWNT players. Going forward, Andonovski will certainly rely on a mix of veterans and younger players. The next few months will be crucial in evaluating which players will make the roster for the CONCACAF W Championship in July, which will function as the qualifying tournament for both the World Cup and the Olympics.

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